Review: 24, Top-Tier Time Traveling Thrills With Suriya

Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)
Review: 24, Top-Tier Time Traveling Thrills With Suriya

An admission up front: I am a huge fan of Tamil film superstar Suriya. If I were to compare him to a similar performer in Hollywood, I’d say he’s kind of like the Gerard Butler of Kollywood.

He’s a buff pretty boy who seems to be equally at home in romantic comedies and action films. Suriya has huge charisma, but for the last several years, not unlike Mr. Butler, he’s had a very hard time translating that charisma into good films. Regardless, the films Suriya makes try to be good fun, often with some pretty high concept ambitions. However, he’s been in a major slump over the last decade and his fans, me included, have watched with pity as he’s made one bad decision after another.

I say all of that to say this, I went into Vikram Kumar’s latest film, 24, with great reservations, hoping against hope that it would finally be the film to bring Suriya out of his trough and I’m happy to say that it’s finally happened. Suriya is back!

24 is a time-travel romantic thriller that plays with the tropes that we expect from all three of those different genres of films in a way that is uniquely Indian. The film was produced by Suriya’s own fledgling production company 2D Entertainment and he has really put everything he’s got into it, literally.

Suriya not only stars in 24, but he plays the three main characters, meaning that the film lives and dies with his performance(s). While an actor performing multiple roles in a film in India are nothing new – Shah Rukh Khan’s Fan just opened a few weeks ago, in which he plays dual leads – actors rarely have the opportunity to portray three characters in the same film. It is a huge risk, but somehow Suriya and Kumar make it work.

The film opens with nerdy-scientist Sethuraman (Suriya #1) working frantically on his latest invention, a time machine modeled to resemble a wristwatch. After a bit of exposition introducing his wife and child, his laboratory is invaded by his villainous twin brother Athreya (Suriya #2), dressed in a sharp suit and looking to take possession of this priceless device to use for his own nefarious causes. In the ensuing fracas, Sethuraman’s family is destroyed, Athreya is crippled and comatose, and the baby is handed off to a stranger for safe keeping.

Some 26 years later, the baby has grown up to be Mani (Suriya #3), the proprietor of Mani’s Watch Works, a watch mechanic and the son of Sathya, the woman who saved him. Through the miraculous power of movie magic, the long forgotten watch makes its way to Mani, who, upon discovery of its powers, immediately does what we’d all do: he starts fooling around. When Sathya (Eega’s Samantha) appears as a client in desperate need of watch repair, Mani uses his newfound control of time to win her heart.

In the meantime, Athreya awakens from his 26-year coma to discover that he’s now a paraplegic. He decides that the only way he can cure himself is to get the watch back and go back in time to before he was injured. It’s only a matter of time before he crosses paths with Mani and all hell breaks loose.

To reveal any more would be to take away a lot of the joy of discovery in 24, which is a fantastically fun ride full of action, romance, and peril. Every time you think you’ve got it figured out, Vikram Kumar’s wonderfully twisty script throws you a surprise. While it’s not quite as layered as something like The Sixth Sense, 24 certainly takes great care in delivering its surprises and will almost certainly reward multiple viewings, in fact, I’m plotting my next visit to the cinema as I type this.

Almost none of what is done in 24 is unique to this film. Double and triple roles are very popular in Indian cinema, and every major star has performed in at least one film in which he plays more than one character. The combination of seemingly opposite genres such as action, romance, and science fiction are expected in the masala-centric regional cinemas of India as a way of delivering bang for the buck.

Even time travel has been done – and quite well, I might add – recently by one of my top ten Indian films of 2015, the Tamil entertainer and romantic crime thriller Indru Netru Naalai, though 24’s internal rules for time travel are definitely a unique and welcome change from the norm. What is wonderful and refreshing about this film is the way these pieces come together.

Suriya is one of the only big movie stars in the Tamil film industry who willing and eager to take risks on high concept projects. The problem is that over the last several years, those risks have more often than not been critical and box office failures. Suriya has starred in films directed by some of India’s biggest talents, like A.R. Murugadoss’s 7 Aum Arivu, in which he plays both Bodhidharma and a contemporary reincarnation thereof fell victim to terminal masala bloat.

Then there was Mattrraan, a film in which Suriya plays a double role as a pair of conjoined twins that eventually, and regrettably, morphs into a film about seeking justice from the producer of tainted milk. Then, in 2012, he starred in the startlingly racist Singam 2, a sequel to his very popular cop action film from a few years before, not exactly high concept, but the familiar ground and quality of the first film in the series gave me hope. More recently, he made a horror comedy titled Masssu, which was essentially a Tamil version of The Frighteners, only without that film’s wit or quality writing.

Since 2011 Suriya has endured failure after failure. The thing is, it’s hard to give up on him because he’s just so damn likeable. Suriya has the boyish good looks and charm of a romantic heartthrob, but he also has some solid action chops, as he’s demonstrated over and over again in films like Singam and even the ill-fated 7 Aum Arivu, but no one has been able to combine those two elements successfully for years.

It feels as though he’s been dragged through movies for the sole purpose of making money for producers, even when he should know better. Perhaps that is why this time around, when he is the producer, the film is so successful in exploiting all of those things that make Suriya great.

Vikram Kumar’s treatment of the material and unique approach to the time-travel paradox is well worth exploring, even when the whizz-bang mechanics of the actual device are a bit goofy. Even though 24 is about as high concept as masala entertainers come, it never forgets its purpose is to thrill its audience and give them what they paid for. In this case that means a few familiar elements, (song and dance, romance and action) a few new elements, (unusual time travel rules, fairly impressive visual FX), and a lot of surprises (obviously I can’t talk about those), and the film delivers in spades.

When so much masala fails these days, whether because of overextended romantic subplots or just plain bloat, it’s remarkable to see a film like 24 that reminds someone like me for whom Tamil is a second cinematic language, why I gravitated toward this stuff in the first place. 24 is a breathless, inventive, romantic, action packed adventure that is packed to the gills with surprises and joy. Some of it doesn’t make sense, and at times the logic involved has more holes than a wheel of swiss cheese, but it never stops being fun, and that is what makes it great.

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24IndiaKollywoodSuriyaTamilVikram Kumar

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